222 posts categorized "Health & Body"

Striving to compete: to be a role model for my girls & boy

May 12, 2014

As my kids get older, I realize more and more how they are watching me intently when I set goals and work hard to meet them.  I have daily goals (do 5 loads of laundry today, go to the supermarket), but I want them to see me striving for more lofty goals.  Recently, I made the decision to peruse a senior position at a new organization.  I went through a long interview process, and I would debrief with the family all along.  At the end of the day, I negotiated it all to go my way, from start date to work-at-home expectations and from salary to job location.  I was proud of myself, so proud, and they were proud of me, too.

I am a mama runner, and all of my “brfs” (best running friends) know that I have a problem with commitment.  “Let’s run this marathon or that half!”  Registrations ensue and I remain silent on the matter.  

Running a race is a huge commitment of time and money.  Each race sucks at least $50, plus there is picking up race packets plus showing up on race-day early.  That is all time I just don’t have.  Then, there’s the actual training.  What if I don’t have the time to fit on that 12 mile run this weekend if the kids have tournaments, events, practices, birthday parties or other commitments? 

Continue reading "Striving to compete: to be a role model for my girls & boy" »

I said this to my daughter: "I feel fat"

May 05, 2014

I was having a water-retention day, just an unconfident and unenergetic day.  My 13-year old daughter was watching me get ready, waiting for me.  I put on a pants and a shirt, and the words just slipped out of my mouth: "I feel fat".

The moment I felt the words slip away, I regreted it.  I wished I never said it.

I am physically able and fit.  I have the privilege to be strong and the privilege to have time to dedicate to running, biking, and yoga.  I am not fat.

I never want my girls to feel like we are judged by our shapes.  It was the wrong statement for me to make; it is a class of statement I often try to refrain from making.  It gives my girls the wrong message.

This is my mama regret of the moment.

"Mama, Jack said I was small": When size matters

January 16, 2014

"Mama, Jack said I was a small boy," said my four-year old, a little forlorn.  "He said I couldn't play basketball.  Aren't I a big boy?"  Many children pride themselves in being independent, being "big", being capable, and - yes - being athletic and coordinated.

Growing up, I was often on the smaller side.  I was an autumn baby, always a bit younger than all the rest.  I think I was pretty fit and active, and I had a good shot at being chosen early on teams for games like capture the flag.

A friend commented the other day that her son was feeling less confident on his basketball team, being one of the shorter members.  He, a fifth grader, was about the same height as his 2nd grade sister.

Does size matter?  A few years back, we talked about being vertically challenged and some medical interventions.  But for those that let height run its natural course, how has size played out on the playground, on sports teams, in friendships and beyond?  Is it a big deal when they are younger?  Is it a bigger deal when they are older?  Is it not a big deal at all?

Birth Centers, Home Births and OHP

July 22, 2013

An email recently blew through the uM account and the reader has the following question: 

"I'm currently working as a babysitter and I do not have insurance. I am 7 weeks pregnant and am interested in having a midwife, and either having a home birth or a birth center birth (ideally not a hospital birth unless it is my only option). I am just wondering if anyone knows how to have an "alternative" birth covered 100% by OHP, because I don't have any other source of income to cover the costs. I know that Andaluz and Alma offer discounts for patients on OHP, but without being covered 100% by OHP I can't afford them. Can anyone recommend other resources? Any information would be helpful."

Have you been through a similar experience when planning for birth? Do you know of any resrouces or businesses that can help mamas on OHP, SNAP, WIC, etc... get alternative care/ help?


Daylight Savings: Do it again (or stop)

March 11, 2013

I hate the time changes, and as I write this my children have gone to bed an hour late and I am terrified I'll be ushering the boys into school tomorrow, shamefaced, late again. I have never seen the point and wrote about this last year.

This year lots of scientists have been writing about it, pointing out "our bodies... will experience a disturbance...  one that can affect our mental and physical health. The reason lies in the clash between sensitive, eons-old biology deep within our cells, and human-imposed time-keeping traditions that are barely a century old. Twice every year, when we “spring forward” and “fall back,” our bodies must do battle between “sun time” and “social time.”"

It's always been advertised as an energy saver, but that's no longer true (if it ever actually was). "The proportion of total energy that is used for lighting is miniscule compared to other, time-independent uses like factories, computers, nuclear plants, airport radars, and other facilities that run 24/7. Energy companies themselves have measured the effect, and have concluded that DST does not save energy." Because we're "essentially jet-lagged for a few days" we experience higher rates of car accidents, workplace mishaps, inefficiency, and depression.

Continue reading "Daylight Savings: Do it again (or stop)" »

Insomnia, mama!

March 04, 2013

It's 2 a.m., and I'm awake. I'm so tired; I was up early this morning to the peep-peeping of a chick stuck in the floorboards (long story, all my fault, but I got her out!) and I have lots of work that I left un-worked-on, or at least, incomplete.

I almost never have insomnia. When I'm tired, I sleep, and I've been that way since college, when I was always tired. In fact, in college, I could fall asleep anywhere, even in every single three-hour British lit seminar class. A friend in my writer's group read an essay about insomnia in a recent get-together, and I felt a lot of sympathy, and badly for every time I'd wished to be the sort of person who couldn't get to sleep. (My theory: I could get more done. Her reality: insomnia is crippling.) But now, my mind's buzzing, and I've done this since "going to bed":

-- remembered about Monroe's missing library book

-- searched through a whole box of papers for said book

-- looked through the kids' whole library for missing book

-- eaten a bunch of popcorn

-- stressed about what I should do for school fundraisers; just send a donation check? Skip it altogether and donate another time?

-- worried about being on time for school tomorrow

-- worried about my kids' dental health

I'm resisting taking Melatonin myself, even though I give it to the kids to help them sleep. As I finally close my eyes and try to rest my brain, how do you deal with insomnia? Do you get it bad, or only occasionally like me? What keeps you awake?

What to eat when you're pregnant: The Pregnancy Plate

November 06, 2012

Guest post by Stephanie Pearson

Nutritionists, like myself, love to share their geeky scientific knowledge about food. We can reach a sort of cerebral high when we get to breaking down and classifying nutrients into their chemical constituents. There is a point, though, at which dissecting the fascinating interplay between enzymes, peptide chains, and our own physiology falls short. When we single out and supplement the parts rather than taking in the whole food, what are we missing?

This is what pulls me out of nutrition geek-talk into my love affair with the simple perfection of food in its whole form. Thinking in terms of food rather than nutrients is a more tangible, more traditional way to ensure high health during pregnancy. Indigenous cultures from all corners reserved specific foods to be consumed by mothers during preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum periods. We too deserve and need to eat special foods during the childbearing years. Certain foods that were repeatedly prized in traditional cultures were wild oily fish, grass-fed butter, liver, greens, olives, seeds, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Together these foods provide the most important vitamins and minerals for fetal development, including: vitamins A , D, B (including folate), C, and E, calcium, protein, omega-3 fats. Beyond what conventional nutrition tells and encapsulates for us, bringing actual foods to plate during pregnancy may provide a source for the important and mysterious co-factors that allude the lens of science.

Here’s what’s on the plate:

Continue reading "What to eat when you're pregnant: The Pregnancy Plate" »

Water Fluoridation in Portland: Next Steps

August 28, 2012

I have three children, one born in New York and two born in Portland.  From the time when they were all young, my husband has commented that their teeth growth has been significantly affected by their water source in the formative years.  Our first child drank fluoridated water for the first three years of their lives.  Our second two children never did.

For our youngest, we don't yet know how the earliest years have affected his teeth, as he is only turning 3.  For our middle child, she has already had carries and fillings, while our eldest seems to have the best oral health.  This could also be a result of being the best tooth-brusher among them.

As educated parents (with ample health care coverage), we have swished, taken oral fluoride supplements prescribed by our pediatrician and used fluoride toothpaste.  Even still, one of our children - born and raised in Portland - has suffered cavities.

My best estimation of what is happening in Portland and Oregon is that, indeed, "we are in a dental crisis".  One in three of our children has untreated tooth decay, and one in five has "rampant decay", which is 7 or more cavities.  

The impact on low-income communities and communities of color is disproportionate: African Americans have twice the rate of tooth decay than white counterparts, 72% of Native Americans have untreated cavities, 46% of Oregon's Latino children have untreated tooth decay.  All these issues result in absenteeism and ultimately affects a child's success in school.  This is a preventable childhood disease.  Does the swishing work?  Yes, but it doesn't help the children before kinder age. And also, what about swishing in the summer or what about teachers who might forget the swish or kids that just throw it out?

Sometimes I like to know who else is support a certain cause.  This fluoridation effort, who else supports it, aside from health, dental, or medical organizations?  Some other supporters include: Urban Leauge, Central City Concern, Children First for Oregon, p:ear, Native American Youth Association, Latino Network, African Women's Coaltion, and many more.  (Full List Here in *pdf)

Commissioner Randy Leonard has been a supporter of this effort.  The Portland City Council is holding a public hearing on water fluoridation next Tuesdsay, September 6, at 2pm in the City Hall Council Chambers.  Interested in learning more?  Please attend.

Representatives from the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition has reached out to me and has offered to offer a Q&A situation where we can have readers email questions and concerns, to see if we can find answers.  For example: I, too, was concerned about the Harvard IQ study that is oft referenced, but - after chatting with other researchers and reading more online from a researcher-mom in Eugene - it sounds like the Harvard study is inconclusive.  I have plenty of questions about fluorosis, and - after again talking with others - it sounds like fluorosis can happen at higher levels of fluoridation but not at the level used to prevent tooth decay (0.7mg/L).  Do you have questions?  Send them over to urbanMamas@gmail.com and we will see if we can find answers.

I have suggested that we gather a group of subject-matter experts - a dentist, a medical doctor, a naturopath, maybe even a teacher who has implented the swish program at schools - to field questions from mamas and papas.  Interested in helping to coordinate this effort?  Please email us at urbanMamas@gmail.com and we will put you in touch!  Perhaps a playdate for parents and kids, where we have the opportunity to learn more?

Until then, keep talking, keep reading up on the issue, and keep informed.  It seems highly likely that this effort will pass in Portland, and we - as parents - need to educate ourselves on all the facts as it relates to fluoridating our water.

Water fluoridation in Portland: Taking the choice out of parents' hands?

August 18, 2012

We've made a case against water fluoridation here before.

Sam Adams says he doesn't care that voters have said 'no' to water fluoridation three times (in 1956, 1962 and 1980), and he will support a plan to add a $5 million fluoridation plant -- it would take at least five years to build and cost taxpayers about $575,000 a year to run once it was going. Commissioner Nick Fish, one of the two others who have publicly supported the project (Dan Saltzman is the third) told an Oregonian reporter how much poor families need fluoridation.

In a statement released Thursday, while on vacation, Fish said many hard-working families can't pay for fluoride. "With fluoridated water, simply drinking tap water gives all of our children the same opportunity to start life with healthy teeth," Fish said.

It's a bizarre argument, given that fluoride has been freely offered in Portland public schools every morning for decades. I swished the fluoride when I was in kindergarten (and my family was, indeed, poor); my kids swish the fluoride. Sure, preschoolers can't have access to fluoride unless they pay for it, but (umm) there are so many ways we don't support the health of poor families that this just seems a weird thing to plant a $5 million-plus flag in. Also, many health advocates have repeatedly noted that fluoride's benefit is topical, and there have been documented effects of fluoride poisoning -- from ingestion -- for about as long as water has been fluoridated.

According to a meta-analysis of fluoridation studies published in the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, high levels of water fluoridation had a negative impact on the IQs of children. Here's another mark against fluoridation, found on the web site of Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water:

A recently published study from Harvard found that young boys between the ages of five and ten years old who drink fluoridated water at so called “optimal” levels  of one part per million have a 500% greater likelihood of developing osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal bone cancer, than boys who do not drink fluoridated water.  The study corroborates earlier studies on the fluoride/osteosarcoma link by the National Cancer Institute and the New Jersey Health Department.

I think the most powerful argument against adding fluoride to water, though, is that parents of babies are asked to avoid giving them fluoridated water to drink. The CDC itself, a supporter of fluoridation, says in a very carefully-worded statement that parents should not use exclusively fluoridated water to reconstitute baby formula. Baby and toddler toothpaste doesn't contain fluoride, because it's considered dangerous for babies to ingest.

I've read a book on fluoridation, and came through the experience firmly against it. I don't disagree with the use of topical fluoride; I think it's perfectly acceptable to use fluoride toothpaste. In fact, it's a lot cheaper to purchase flouride toothpaste than the natural fluoride-free alternatives (Sam and Nick, take note, poor parents now have no choice but excessive fluoridation).

I really don't think this move makes sense for any of us. If we as a city have decided that our tax dollars should support the heath of the poorer members of our community, the most efficient way to achieve that would be in health outreach to poor families -- more fresh whole foods and less sugar, more social-emotional supports for young families, more dental treatments for poor families -- than prophylactically medicating the entire city through our water system. I can't believe this is just about dental health, because there are so many better ways to approach it (and, once again! we already HAVE a fluoridation program for children in Portland!)

If the city council does indeed vote for this plan, we'll have the opportunity to overturn it. It will be expensive (money better spent on true community building and food and farms and arts and all sorts of things); it will take a lot of our time and energy; it will be seriously annoying. We already said "no." We have alternatives that work. We could spend $100,000 a year to buy toothpaste and fluoride tablets for every kid in Portland.

It's just not the Portland way, Sam & Co. Let the parents make the choices about their children's health. We can be trusted. Stop making it so clear you don't agree.

A mother's mortality; how much do we tell our kids?

July 24, 2012

Today I went, with my three boys, to my obstetrician's office. We weren't there for fun. I was undergoing a LEEP procedure to shock off some shockingly bad cells from my cervix. After one bad pap smear prior to becoming pregnant with Everett, the more-common-than-I-ever-knew-at-22 cervical "pre-cancer" had returned.

Dr. Kehoe was reassuring and spirit-cheering. She'd told me that I had nothing to worry about, really; we'd get rid of the bad cells and I'd still have a mostly-intact cervix and an ability to birth babies. I said something to Everett, who's now 10, about the aim of the appointment several weeks ago when I went in for the biopsy procedure. This time, though I skimmed over it (I think I might have said exactly, "cut some bad cells out of me so I'll be healthy") I didn't give as much information.

"Why do you seem so worried?" asked Everett as we locked the door on our way out of the house.

"I don't think it's going to be very much fun," I said. "It's going to be very un-fun."

But at its core what I'm worried about is the very real exposure to my own mortality. As sole caregiver to my boys for the next year -- and, as I sometimes worry, the only one so equipped to love them in the particular way they seem to need -- the idea of them having to live without me is too stark to face, for me, or them.

Continue reading "A mother's mortality; how much do we tell our kids?" »

Mangled Breasts: is there any way around it?

July 16, 2012

I clearly remember my mom nursing my brother.  It was painful, based on the crumpled look on her face.  More painful than the actual nursing was the actual latching-off, removing baby mouth from mama breast.  In early books, I read about a couple of key components of nursing: (1) good latch, mouth open wide! and (2) break the seal before unlatching, removing from breast.  My mom's breasts, by the end of her few months of nursing my brother, were mangled.  Her nipples were so stretched out, hardened from the poor latch-on and poor latch-off.

When I nursed my first child, I soon realized the effect of the lazy latch off.  If I let her slip off the breast, lips still firmly wrapped around my breast and nipple, she would elongate my breast and nipple with every latch off.  The result - after days, weeks, years - was not pretty.  My breasts - well, at least my nipples - were starting to look like my mom's, a very skewed breast-to-nipple ratio (approaching 1 to 1!).  Mamas, you know what I mean.

As I approach the three-year mark nursing my third child, I look at my bare breasts in the mirror, and I sigh.  My nam-nams are looking as tired as my face.  They are weathered, flappy.  The worst of it, I think, are my nipples.  The mechanism of getting the nourishment from my milk stores to my child's stomach, my nipples have seen better (and shorter) days.  After almost a decade of combined nursing, is there any way to revive my nam-nams?  Is there a way to perk my ladies up?  Is there a way to unform what has become an extra-large avent nipple?  Or, do I look at my breasts and feel accomplished for all the comfort and nourishment I have provided (and continue to provide) my children for all those years?

What to eat when you're in "your time"?

June 10, 2012

Yep: it's that old familiar "time of the month" for me. I wrote a little "LMP" on my calendar for this morning. And as usual I'm exhausted and headachey -- half of the symptoms of first trimester pregnancy with none of the fun. I've been wondering these last few months if I feel so badly because I'm eating all wrong. Just like during pregnancy, I have cravings during my period for comfort food. I don't usually eat a lot of sweets, but they are comfort for me, and I gave in and had a few small servings of ice cream with a much more nutritionally sensible rhubarb-blueberry crumble.

Because it's farmer's market season and I happen to have a bunch of fresh vegetables and fruits today, that's pretty much all I've eaten. And it occurs to me that my cravings might be working against my well-being. Do you pay attention to what you eat when you're on your period? After all, your body is losing all that blood; perhaps it should be replaced by some iron-rich food (maybe today would be a good day for steak and creamed spinach!). Have you found any dietary combo that works to help you feel a little better during this time?

Health insurance stories: What's yours?

March 27, 2012

I don't know about the "I Like Obamacare" meme that the Obama administration is pushing as the landmark legislation comes before the nation's supreme justices. Sure, I like "Obamacare," a.k.a. health care reform, but I definitely don't love it. I'd much prefer a single-payer health care system (a.k.a. socialized health care). All the arguments against it, or most of them, are also arguments against our current system. Take rationing. Today we ration health care to the wealthy and the people with professional jobs. Take long lines. Have you ever sat -- with a legitimate emergency -- in an emergency room? OK, then, you know that long lines are already here. My last visit, for stitches, took us six long hours. The procedure took 10 minutes.

I really believe that many of the woes attributed to "big government" and a "welfare system" could be alleviated with single-payer health care; for one thing, it would be easier to get birth control, so many families could be planned instead of just happening to families not equipped to deal with them. For another, bankruptcies would be greatly reduced; our nation's bankruptcies are more frequently caused by medical bills every year (20% in the first half of 2011, not counting those bankruptcies with medical bills as a factor). Another thing: every time we chat about "radical homemaking" or other ideas that center around the concept of spending more time at home with our kids, health insurance comes up. It hamstrings us, ties us or our spouses to jobs we may not love, because we can't imagine affording insurance without it -- or because we or our kids have chronic diseases that would preclude us from getting good private insurance.

In my helter-skelter, pie-in-the-sky, best-of-all-possible-worlds dream for the way our country could be with single-payer health insurance, we'd have more mobility, more happiness, less debt, more time to pay attention to our kids, and more making choices for the right reasons. More health, of course.

I thought it would be interesting to think about the whole debate going on right now in the Supreme Court -- which, according to pundits watching the courts today, is going to be struck down on very weak legal grounds and very strong political ones -- in terms of our own stories. How has health insurance influenced your life? What decisions have you made simply because of health insurance? What is YOUR pie-in-the-sky idea for how the system should work?

Here's my story:

Continue reading "Health insurance stories: What's yours?" »

#EndDaylightSavings Time?

March 13, 2012

I did everything right: I got dinner ready early, kept the boys off screens on Sunday night, turned all the clocks back before I went to bed Saturday so we would wake up Sunday as if it never happened -- as if the time change was a chimera. We went through the day, keeping to our normal Sunday schedule where I only put the time in quotes in the quiet and safety of my stubborn brain (which had kept me up late Saturday night writing, and late Sunday night too). Still: I'd gotten them all asleep a little early than the normal quote-bedtime-end quote. That should do it, right?

I found out how wrong I was when I woke up at "7:51" a.m. this morning, nine minutes before Truman's final bell rings. It's only a half-mile away, but when I tried to wake him I was resoundingly unsuccessful. I barely managed to get Everett ready by the time his transportation arrived at "8:15"; we were just late, late, late with Truman, and as I walked him into the cafeteria at "8:50" for breakfast, I said that I guessed we were early for the old, dear, departed time!

Continue reading "#EndDaylightSavings Time?" »

Of children, diet, and poop, and crying mothers with toilet plungers

March 06, 2012

In order to protect the child of whom I am speaking, I won't say which of my sons is the sufferer, but he's a grade-schooler, and as grade-schoolers do, he eats the school breakfast and lunch with alacracity. Even though the Farm to Table program is making strides in increasing good grains and vegetables, it's still pretty much a white flour- and sugar-rich diet. At home, I make concerted effort to get dried fruit, whole grains, and lots of vegetables into the kids (and lots of kombucha), but whenever I stray from my constant vigilance, and a sugary snack or loaf of white bread sneaks in the door, they gobble it up. I swear sometimes they drop themselves into the mail slot and sidle in behind the kitty. I swear it!

Enter the digestive system, and its slowing and slowing until, boom! it compacts into a ball of disgusting solid poop that hurts coming out and prevents a child from wanting to to expel it. A few days of protesting, crying, negotiating and writhing later, the poop cannot be denied and it clogs up my toilet.

Continue reading "Of children, diet, and poop, and crying mothers with toilet plungers" »

Once obese, always obese: Can we prevent it in the first place?

January 19, 2012

At the turn of the year, we love to make resolutions.  Many might like to make resolutions of the health variety: I resolve to eat better, I resolve to exercise more, I resolve to lose weight.  A few weeks might go by, and our resolutions might slip.  In fact, over a third of resolutions are broken by the end of January.

Then, there is a twist.  On January 1st, the NYT ran an article discussing new studies in the realm of obesity: once obese, are we always obese?  Some studies show that we can get stuck in a fat trap, once fat.  Obese individuals who successfully lose weight will only regain all that weight (and more, possibly) in due time.

Depressing?  Yes.

What can we do about it?  Well.  There is much focus now on "upstream public health", tackling the root of the cause, preventing the fatness before we even enter (and get stuck) in the "fat trap".  This got us thinking about programs that affect our children, making sure that programs are designed to keep them active, to make sure they have access to healthy food, to help them be safe when active.

We live in a busy, complex world.  Our lives can be overwhelming.  How can make living a healthy lifestyle easy for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, etc in our modern world?  Our lives are complex, and the environments that shape our health behaviors are too.  Work, school, urban or rural infrastructure all of these these can attract us to or deter us from eating more fruits and vegetables and moderate exercise.  How can we make this utopia of walkable/bikable cities with access to affordable fresh produce for all a reality for all?  What do we, as parents, see to be barriers to that reality?  What do the experts think we can do to change?  What are your top priorities for change?  What do you do in your day-to-day life as small steps toward keeping the family healthful?

* Keep the conversation going at a screening & panel discussion of "Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead", next Monday, January 23, 6-9pm at Living Room Theaters.  100% of proceeds of the $35 ticket go towards EcoTrust's Farm to School program.

Periods: Are we afraid to talk about it?

September 30, 2011

I've been using homemade cloth pads for the past few years (ever since that experiment with cup-style products), and I've noticed that I have a very much heightened sense of when my period is arriving, and exactly how heavy my flow is every day of my period. Moderate differences are very obvious when your absorbency is all based on cotton, not those high-tech absorbers in today's tampons and pads. While it's often inconvenient, and always a little messy, I feel somehow better without having what is essentially a stopper in my lady parts.

I have one day that's very heavy, one day that's somewhat heavy, and a few days of trickle. That heavy day is bad enough that I think about my period all the time. I try not to do anything on these days; if I have to, I often use tampons or the Softcup (I picked up a few free samples at Blogher -- the company rebranded and relaunched the product emphasizing ability to swim, do sports and have sex with the cup in; it doesn't seem a very mom-focused marketing campaign) because I pretty much have to be close to home to use cloth pads. Luckily, I'm there a lot.

So when I was invited to sit in on a conference call about heavy periods, I thought it would be interesting to hear what the PR firm arranging the event was pitching. I wasn't sure: what is the definition of heavy period? (Going through more than one pad an hour is, I think, the definition; the woman on the call representing heavy period sufferers says hers was far worse.) The belief of the PR firm arranging these calls is that women are afraid to talk about their periods, and that they are even timid about bringing up such complaints to their doctors.

I had to wonder, is this true for you? I've talked about my period to several close friends over the years, and I also chat about it (very superficially) with the teenage cross country runners I coach. It also seems that, every month, one of my kids barges in the bathroom when I'm changing a pad or wiping blood; I have to have the talk again each time. (I now say, for the record: "every month mama's body gets ready to have a baby. If there is no baby, the stuff that would have helped the baby grow gets sent out.")

Continue reading "Periods: Are we afraid to talk about it?" »

Granola Bars, Cereal, Lunch Meat & Bread: my love/hate relationship

September 20, 2011

Having recently moved, my new neighborhood supermarket is Safeway in addition to a small, great local produce stand.  I find myself accomplishing my supermarketing tasks very, very slowly.  Not only do I try to enjoy the time without kids (when I am able to escape to market without them), but I am stuck on the labels.  I look carefully.  

Granola bars: the 70% organic CLIF bars run over a buck a pop but a box of the Quaker Oat bars ("now made without high fructose corn syrup" the box boasts!) will give you 8 for $2, if on sale.  The economics are compelling.  The kid CLIF bars usually run about $0.75 each, still significantly more than the ones I usually consider "candy bars" more than anything.  I struggle.  Do I have time this week to make my own (this one being the favored recipe so far)?  The wrappers.  I think about the wrappers.  Can we make an art project out of the wrappers?  Make a reusable shopping bags for holiday gifts?

Cereal: this is a treat in our household.  The poor children beg for it.  I sometimes look past the high fructose corn syrup (why do Rice Krispies need HCFS as a sweetener?) and reason that the iron-enrichment is worth it.  Why not?  On special, we could get two boxes for a few dollars, compared to the one box of my preferred brand of "natural" cereal.  What are your preferred O's?  Does it break the bank?

Lunch Meat: Oscar Mayer was on sale.  And, as I was humming "my baloney has a first name, is O-S-C-A-R....", I was thumbing the list of ingredients: ham, water, sugar...... sodium nitrite.  Is sodium nitrite bad?  Well, it could be.  But, it also does good in preventing botulism.  To be sure, though, the meat processing industry have indeed found ways to make us lunch meat that do not include sodium nitrite.  I've seen it at the store "No Nitrites", but it's just a bit too expensive.

Then, the bread: we have had long conversations about our decision-making process on the bread.  We look for lower sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, more whole grains, no enriched processed white flour (but wonder bread can be so good!).  We look for loaves under $5, please!  Under $2!  There are so many things to consider.

Between choosing these four items and whether or not I buy them, I could easily spend 45 minutes. It is a balance, and we all have our own ways that we juggle the cost, the convenience, and the health impacts.  What frustrates me to no end is how much I feel bombarded to buy the cheaper varieties, which often end up being the less healthy options.  How easy it is, though: cereal for breakfast, meat sandwich for lunch, granola bar for snack.  That's half of the day's meals, taken care of with just a few dollars and a few boxes.  It's not a decision I feel good about.  To eat out of stuff that has been previously wrapped no longer feels right to me.  That's just me.

When I go to the market, I wonder: why is it so hard to buy whole fresh foods?  Why do many factors push us to buy the convenient food, the cheaper food?  How can I continue to afford the whole food if it is priced higher than the processed food?  All of these things, I wonder, in my love/hate relationship with granola bars, cereal, lunch meat and bread.  It's a luxury to be armed with all the information we have, to have the time to ponder these questions, but I know I'm not the only one thinking about these things.  

Our Food, Our Bodies: Supporting our Teen Girls

September 07, 2011

When my first two children were born girls, I often wondered how they would feel about their bodies and their food when they were older, in the teen and pre-teen years, when we can be so susceptible and vulnerable to all sorts of pressures.  I kept those thoughts in the back of my head; I had a long time before we would think about those issues.

Well, the time is now.  My eldest turns 11 in a few weeks.  I have recently noticed a huge surge in her eating, and her sweet tooth has gotten sweeter.  Her junk food magnet has gotten stronger. And, her appetite has gotten bigger, much bigger.

When Sarah posted recently about school lunches, Sheryl mentioned some thoughts about her 14-year old high-schooler:

Something I worry about is the whole peer pressure/body image/I don't know what to call it that goes on with girls in her age group. My lean, athlete of a girl has always eaten big, hearty, (mostly) healthy meals, with meats and veg and fruit and grains and dairy. Just recently I noticed she checks herself and eats much less when she's with her peers, and tends to shy away from higher calorie and/or fat foods. 

Indeed, I have started to notice that my big girl packs piddly lunches and comes home with a lot of it uneaten.  She goes on to state how "HONGRY" she is once home and will eat lots.  LOTS!  Often, she's so "hongry" that she'll devour food in mass quantity, almost eating like an animal.  If she's so hungry, what is it that keeps her from eating more at school?  Does she have too little time now in middle school to eat?  Is her food too complicated to eat (too much utensil food)?  Or, is it embarrassing to eat?  Is it better to just hang out?

I rode my own roller coaster with food.  Always an athlete, my appetite was always huge.  I recall being able to eat a whole pizza by myself when I was ramping up on calories in my early growth spurt.  But, I hit a point where body image started to play a part, wanting to always stay svelte.  I recall being able to eat a whole cake.  I also recall being able to then regurgitate it all out into the toilet.  That was a dark, confusing time.

Never wanting to support an unhealthy approach to food, we have spent the past decade encouraging our girl to eat a variety of healthy foods.  We have offered treats on a regular, but not daily, basis.  We have learned about ingredients in our foods.  We have sat down for mealtimes, where we all eat a balanced plate.  We try not to pressure.

What is your approach to food with your girls?  How do you discuss it at home?  Books to suggest for girls in the 10-20 year old range that might offer them support and guidance when it comes to food and body?

Treating lice in really thick hair

July 31, 2011

Every time I hear of a lice infestation, I get sick to my stomach just thinking about that happening here in my house. I have some children who get apoplectic with rage at the thought of me washing their hair. I have others whose hair is just so thick and gorgeous and tangly and precious that the best -- but untenable -- strategy would be the head shave (several friends have gone that way with boys as the simplest and most direct). I am a little obsessive about my worries, and regularly check their hair when I see itching or lice-sized pieces of dirt in their hair.

Everett came home from his Aunt's house late last night after a sleepover, and this morning he said, "my head is really itchy. Do you think I have lice?" Surely not! A few seconds later, the diagnosis was in. Lice: everywhere.

We started with the laundry (hot water over 130 degrees plus a hot dryer, says the CDC) -- all his bedding and clothes are going in. Then we headed to the bathroom to see what we were dealing with. I wanted to get as many of them out as I could before I went shopping -- I didn't want to go shopping until I checked urbanMamas for advice. It took me over an hour just to get him fully disentangled, using cider vinegar as a dousing agent (because, whether or not it would kill the buggers, at least it couldn't hurt anyone if it didn't). Several suggestions we shave his head were met with "no, NEVER."

According to what I've now read, the best approach is just to do a lot of picking (great). The CDC and most mainstream sites seem to agree that the best approach is Rid (or similar) treatment, followed by regular picking with a metal lice comb, once again after 8-10 hours and then every 2-3 days. Retreatment with the Rid is only suggested after 8-10 days, when eggs could have conceivably hatched (the stuff doesn't kill eggs). Commenters on urbanMamas, however, suggest that the shampoo doesn't really work; it doesn't get them all, so you just have to keep re-treating. Listerine seems to be a very popular choice (and what the hell, I'll try it) even among others on the internet who say they tried everything, even a series of mayonnaise treatments (sorry, not trying that).

Lice life cycles are 28 days from egg laying to hatching, which is why daily or every-other-daily combing is recommended for a whole month. They can't live without blood and scalp temperatures for more than 1-2 days, so obsessive housecleaning is said to be unnecessary (though bedding, hats and clothes are possible ways to spread the bugs). The general way to contract the bugs is head-to-head contact; and how many times have I seen my three boys, along with the neighbors, cuddled with all their heads touching, playing Minecraft or Angry Birds or Pokemon? Too, too many times.

For the other two boys -- who were, luck would have it, away from home at Grandma & Grandpas for two days prior to the infestation -- I'm going with a tea-tree oil treatment as a prophylactic. I'll let you know how it works in my boys' thick, tangly hair: and if you have other advice for me, please share!

Get the Grandparents Moving: is it possible?

July 22, 2011

A few years ago, when at the inagural Sunday Parkways, my parents happened to be visiting us for the weekend.  I was determined to bike the route, so I insisted that they join us.  I asked them: do you want to walk or bike?  My dad, who probably hadn't been on a bike in a good 20 years, agreed to ride.  My mom tried in earnest to quickly learn to ride a bike on the sidewalk, but she just couldn't get it.  But she tried.  She ended up riding on the back of my Xtracycle.

A few weeks ago, again it was Sunday Parkways in our neighborhood.  My husband's parents, this time, were visiting.  Again, his parents had either never really ridden a bike or hadn't done so in years.  His dad rode along with us for a few miles, but really petered out at the end.  He was spent.   At one point, my husband just took him home, as he feared his dad would buckle over.  The exertion seemed too much.

Our kids are most definitely lucky in that they have all four of their grandparents.  However, we worry about their health, and what we can do to make them more healthy, more able to spend more time with their grandkids for years to come.

We can't do anything to change their [very sedentary] ways.  Or: can we?  Whenever they visit us, we walk to the store or to dinner or just take walks around the neighborhood.  We push them to continue to walk, even if just around the block, even if just a quarter of a mile to their neighbor.  Walking could be such a great way to get fit, to stay fit.

Back in their hometowns, they drive everywhere.  There is little reason to be active.  There is every reason to settle in front of the TV for hours.  Recreation involves eating out.  

We don't expect our parents to take cross-country bicycle rides or run marathons (although some people their age do!).  We just want them to find a level of fitness and activity that is comfortable for them, in the hopes of extending their lives, increasing their energy levels.  Is that too much to ask?  If your kids have grandparents in their lives, are they active?  Do you worry along these lines?  Or, is it futile, as they will be as they are?

When she starts to "develop": books to read

May 17, 2011

Along with changes in scent come changes to the body.  Back when I was a young girl, there were pamphlets describing your ovaries, eggs traveling down tubes, then a monthly shedding of the endometrium.  It was all very clinical in all of its two pages.

Now that my girl is starting to go through the changes, I want to collect reading material that answers some of her questions.  I also want reading material for myself, from the mama perspective.

Years ago, we received a copy of Cycle Savvy, "The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of her Body".  It really is geared toward the 13-18 year old set.  I'm looking for books more geared toward the 8-13 year old set, to prepare girls for these changes.

Our doc recently recommended a series that talked about the changes, both emotional and physical.  But should couldn't remember the title!  Suggestions, please - both for girls in the pre- or early-pubescent range & their mamas....

Perimenopause: Signs & Symptoms?

May 04, 2011

An urbanMama recently emailed:

I'd love to see a post asking readers about their experiences with perimenopause symptoms, advice, "must read" books, and so on. I'm 40 and noticing changes around my period (more cramps, bloat, mood swings, etc.) and wondering if it's perimenopause. Is weight gain common/inevitable? What about the mood swings? Is 40 too young? I think I'm just at the beginning of this process and realizing I know nothing! I need some advice, support, and reassurance, and it's not a topic I've seen discussed here before.

(Lately, we're seeing more requests for posts coming through via email.  If you ever want to pose a question to the urbanMamas community, feel free to contact us at urbanMamas@gmail.com)

It Starts Here: Multnomah County's Healthy Living Initiative

April 01, 2011

A recent report on the healthiest counties in Oregon shows Multnomah county ranking in the middle.  Not all of us are fit and mindful of our sugar intake.  The Multnomah County Health Department recently launched the “It Starts Here” Campaign for a healthy, active Multnomah County.  “We are promoting healthy eating and active living as a means to combat obesity and its many associated health consequences. You can learn more about our campaign at our website multco-itstartshere.org.”

Mc billboard kid 030211

How does this image make you feel?  16 packets of sugar?  WOW, is that how much is in a bottle of soda?  The County is working on an outdoor advertising campaign to raise community awareness about the health burden of obesity and the effects of hidden sugar, particularly in sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and sugar-sweetened juices.  Care to share your input?  Click on the image <above> to complete an anonymous survey.  The county appreciates the input!

Do you or your kids drink soda?


Homemade Granola Bars: crowd-pleasing & easy, too!

March 31, 2011

I came to realize that there were a handful of grocery items that really added to our level of waste: milk (at least we can recycle the jugs), cereal (boxes recycled, inner bags usually not), and granola bars (CLIF might have a recycling program for their wrappers, but all the other shiny ones are usually chucked into the landfill).  

So, I have been experimenting with making granola bars using ingredients I can buy in bulk (nuts, sugar, oats, choco chips!, dried fruit).  Other mamas have recently asked me for recipes, and lots of us seem to be experimenting, so I thought it'd be fun to share tips, tricks, and favorite recipes.

The hardest part is getting the consistency down, making sure the liquid binders (maple syrup, honey, butter, peanut butter, coconut oil, etc) is ample to hold it all together.  When I mix it all together, if the end result doesn't look sticky enough, I'll throw in a beaten egg, which is sure to keep it all together.  So far, two of my favorite recipies are from Alton Brown and this thick chewey bar recipe that happens to be gluten-free (one of our kids is gluten-free).

Have you made granola bars at home?  Best recipes to share to make the perfect bar?  Must-try ingredients and mix-ins?

Radiation: Don't Worry?

March 23, 2011

Most of us parents were young during the Chernobyl accident, and have vivid memories of our first exposure to the story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I can still see, in my memory, terrible black-and-white photos of the devastation in Hiroshima. It was so inhuman; there was so much humanity. Exposed, its surface melted away. And the concept of the invisible threat, the sickness that eats away at you from inside, insidiously: how can it not stay with a girl?

Now we're faced with the crisis that will be our own children's Chernobyl, perhaps: the earthquake and tsunami that devastated so much of northern Japan, and the developing crisis as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant deteriorates. I took my boys to Seaside yesterday with my parents; Truman was so terrified of the idea of a tsunami that he kept going back to Grandpa's truck (there's a story there about the policemen who decided I was a very bad parent because I was spending more time calming everyone's fears than making sure I had eyes on all three boys -- a story for another day that I'm sure I'll tell soon). Everett got scientific and figured out how he could estimate the power of the waves through scientific observation, calming his own fears of one of those waves going Japanese on him.

The short answer to this crisis coming to Oregon shores, as I've learned after lots of research into Walletpop stories on radiation danger and sushi, is not to worry. About this, anyway; any radiation that gets here is at least a million times below toxic levels. Japan exports almost none of its fish, and whatever it would export wouldn't be any more dangerous than a mercury-laden river fish. (We in Oregon actually export a ton of fish and other products to Japan; it's an interesting story, too.)

There's plenty more to worry about. I'm freaking out on a near-daily basis about pesticides and the dangers of exhaust; I'm pretty sure it's part of the reason I struggle so with my boys. Other people are really concerned about radon in their homes; evidently, it's potentially a far, far worse source of radiation than any nuclear plant -- although you can have your radon levels tested and there's a fix. Other friends are having some big worries about lead contamination -- in the paint, in house keys, in the soil, in old furniture you hadn't suspected, in lots of jewelry little kids might get their mouths on (even though it's not meant for kids -- funny how that works). A bunch of us are very concerned about BPA and other plastic-based endocrine disruptors.

And another thing. I got an email which led me to this post I wrote forever and a day ago about radiation exposure of parents and how it affects the yet-to-be-born offspring. I didn't do a lot of research at the time and didn't follow up beyond the post. But I still haven't dismissed it. The mama who found my post wrote,

My dad had polio as a small child and was treated in an iron lung chamber. My aunts recall the doctors believing the radiation exposure is what caused his numerous bouts of cancer. My dad passed away at 40 after battling cancer most of his life.

All this attention on radiation has me wondering if I've been exposed, and what that potential danger could be. And, of course, if I could have passed anything along to my children.

I'd love to talk with someone locally about this. I don't even know where to start or what kind of doctor to call to get checked.

Do any of you have experience with this sort of thing? If you have ideas for how this mama can get tested for the markers of inherited radiation -- if that could be a problem -- please chime in! And tell us what's keeping you up at night with this disaster; I can't stop thinking about my parents' house, that would surely fall in an earthquake and slide into the Nehalem River; wouldn't my 1912 house crumble, too? There's just so much to worry about, you hardly know where to start.

Flouride and Portland kids: news and analysis

January 11, 2011

Portland water has never been fluoridated, so most of the public concern about fluoride ingestion for kids in our city is imported from other hometowns (though we've had some past discussions about fluoride, here, here and here). I've done a little research on the topic in the past few years, helped by my dentist (an urbanMama reader who encourages even the most militant green among us to use fluoridated toothpaste because it's helpful when applied topically) and a great book, The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Kept It There. (phew.) So when I heard the news on NPR last week that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency were working together to lower the maximum recommended level of fluoride in water -- to 0.7 mg per liter from its current maximum, 1.2 mg/L -- my first thought was that it wouldn't affect us, much.

Then I started reading through the articles in greater detail, compared with the information in the book I have now on my lap, and found some interesting leaps to conclusion and some great shifts from unexpected sources. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long been the leading proponent of municipal water fluoridation, arguing that the benefit of preventing tooth decay overrode the risk of toxic effects -- and according to all government sources to date, the biggest risk is fluoridosis, or discoloration, streaks and spots on your tooth enamel. The NPR story begins: "Fluoride is a finicky friend to teeth. Too little of it, and you get cavities. Too much, and it starts to eat away and discolor the enamel of your pearly whites, " and quotes a dentist with the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry as saying, "There's a cosmetic risk, not a health risk."

There are a number of problems with these statements.

Continue reading "Flouride and Portland kids: news and analysis" »

Links between autism, vaccines, and pesticides

January 05, 2011

I know that we all have our own reasons why to vaccinate our children on schedule, do it more slowly than the AAP recommends, or not at all. Many of us know now that the scientific evidence linking rising autism rates to the thimerosal preservative (which contained trace amounts of mercury) has been discarded by nearly every public health professional.

Still, today's news that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the author of the original (and since retracted) study linking autism to vaccines did not just create a bad study but "an elaborate fraud" is chilling. The British medical journal BMJ conducted an investigation, and the editor told CNN, "in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data." The editorial revealing the results of the study said it had created a long-lasting deleterious effect on public health and, worse, "perhaps as important as the scare's effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it."

Speaking of those. No one (as far as I can tell) is calling pesticide exposure a definitive cause of autism -- perhaps the study has created a scientific-community-wide crisis of confidence. But I'm chilled by results of a 12-year study of migrant worker mothers and their children in Salinas, California, the Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas project. Mothers who had the highest exposure to pesticides had children with poorer attention spans.

""We have very, very high reports by the mother of behaviors consistent with pervasive developmental disorder," UC Berkeley Public Health profession Brenda Eskenazi said in comments at a neurotoxicology conference. "These include signs like the child is afraid to try new things, can't stand anything out of place, and avoid looking others in the eye. This is considered to be autism spectrum behavior."

Continue reading "Links between autism, vaccines, and pesticides" »

The physicality of angst: Children and phantom ailments

August 09, 2010

Over a period of a few weeks this May, Everett kept insisting his legs were full of pain alternating between dull and shooting. It had started a day or two after the time on the playground in which he'd gotten into a conflict with some older kids. As far as I can figure out, he was the victim, and a righteous one, too; he'd been protecting another, littler child, and ended up with a nasty scrape and bruise on his knee. I expressed what I thought was appropriate solicitation and pride; for once, he seemed to have handled a really unfair situation without retaliating with fury.

But now, it was weeks later, and he'd run up and down stairs and then protest in screaming pain when I tried to get him to ride his bike, or walk somewhere with me. Even riding on the back of my bike, he said, was too much. Finally I made an appointment for the next afternoon at the doctor's office, worried that there was some real ailment -- a bone marrow problem, maybe? -- I wasn't giving its due.

The day of the appointment, he couldn't get going to school; if he was to stay home, I told him, he'd have to ride his own bike on a series of errands I'd planned. By appointment time, we were on mile #11 and he was fine. As I've gone through a lot with Everett, who's now eight, and his outsized reactions to the sort of things many children would find only mildly upsetting, I only added it to my mental portrait of his challenges and let it be.

Then, this weekend, we got a question from a mama we know. Her younger son struggled with a potentially fatal illness when he was a toddler, and recently gave his family another confidence-shaking scare, until test results came back, indicating that he was indeed fine. The whole family had talked about their fears together, but it was very stressful. Now, she's worried about her older child.

My nine-year-old son has recently started seriously overreacting when he gets hurt. I have taken him to the ER twice recently thinking if he's screaming so badly perhaps he does have broken fingers or dislocated shoulder (two separate incidents). Nothing is ever diagnosed. He's always fine and the trauma is completely over two hours later. These type of incidents have been increasing lately.

I am wondering if his overreacting might be a result from the stress at home over the last few weeks. I am also wondering if he's trying desperately to get more attention from me even though this summer we have been spending most days together and I am available, physically, emotionally. I am here for him.

My question for other mamas is, is this something I should seek professional advice for; should I look into a few sessions with a child therapist? Or, will he just grow out of this? Could it just be a phase?

PSA: The mosquitos are hungry and we are delicious

July 07, 2010

As I went into my garden this evening for a little therapeutic weed-pulling and, ironically, to pick St. John's wort buds (to make more skin salve good for burns, hives, bruises... and bites), I wasn't that surprised to get a few hungry mosquitoes swarming my yummy arms. After all, I'd been heedless enough to go out with a sleeveless top. And then. I got a bit through my stretchy black cotton pants and my underwear, right on my behind. As I rubbed some of the buds I'd just picked inside my undies, another mosquito landed on my pants and went in for a snack. Ouch!

For the next 45 minutes, I proceeded to pull weeds with dozens of mini-breaks to wildly swing at the mosquitoes. Never since I lived in Montana when I was a tween have I seen so many mosquitoes in such a short time. I ended up with so many bites I was afraid to look; I went inside and slathered myself with St. John's wort oil (thankfully, I have lots already steeped).

As I have a sister who lives in Panama and gets regular governmental notifications of such things, I realized quickly that our recent weather has been perfect mosquito breeding weather. Lots of recent rain, with a few cloudy cool days following, means lots of standing water for mosquitoes to lay their little eggies. The warm weather we're moving into now is pitocin to these biological processes! Zow!

Thanks to those weeds growing in my backyard, many of them medicinal, I was hoping I'd find the perfect concoction for a natural herbacious mosquito repellent (I've always been sensitive to the smell of bug spray and I finally decided it couldn't be good for me; I've foresworn). Sadly, I may have to suffer through. I found these recipes for catnip and rosemary repellent... lovely, but you need to let 'em steep two weeks. Also, I hve no catnip. I may try to spray myself with a rosemary tea tomorrow, it's worth a shot. If you have other ideas for more instant herbal repellents, send them my way! And dump any standing water you have around, pronto.

Pediatric 'Disorders' have this mama in chaos

June 07, 2010

"We're going with Disruptive Behavior Disorder," says the pediatric psychologist. She is young: the sort of young that goes with lots of experience working with parents and small children, seriously impressive degrees, knowledge, decisiveness. In fact, looking at her resume later, I decide she may be exactly my age. But her manner, her aspect, young.

The patient is my not-quite-three-year-old son, Monroe; I'd started this quest to get him diagnosed by a storied medical organization up on this hill of inquiry six months ago; for what? I ask myself in these spare moments after receiving the diagnosis. What did I expect? All pediatric psychologists and special education teams have for my children is a (damning) name for the symptoms I'm reporting to them. All they have is a knowledge -- from this brief interview, these questionnaires with acronyms and insufficient answer choices (there's no "it's complicated," or, "are you kidding me?" or, "but I love this kid with every inch of me" as options) -- that I've given them, that they've observed with the shapes and the little plastic bolt-and-nut. He can sort the shapes, he can screw the screw, he can tell you he's a boy and I'm his mama. He can say "I loff you!" and call blue "boo" and ask where "muffin" has gone ("my friend," I translate after a minute, a little boy only 11 months, Monroe was so sweet with him). He eats kale and garbanzo beans and picks raspberries right off the bush. He hits me, bites his brother so hard it bruises, stomps, throws things, breaks them, screams! screams! when he's angry. He's angry a lot, far more than is right.

What I wanted, I decide after much questioning myself, was a reason, if only a guess! a supposition!, something to look back to and say, "ahh," sorrowfully, to avoid next time, to purge from my life, from which to warn others away. I wanted to know how to wean this child so I can sleep better, manage better. I wanted a solution. Not a thoroughly bad name for what I already know.

Continue reading "Pediatric 'Disorders' have this mama in chaos" »

Waiting for vaccinations doesn't help

May 25, 2010

Concern about mercury in vaccinations, the worry that they might cause autism, and a host of other what-ifs have many, many parents in Portland delaying vaccinations for their children -- or, in some cases, foregoing them altogether. Tales of chicken pox parties are common, and among the reviews of any local pediatrician is her attitude toward vaccinations. Results of a study that had originally been designed to study whether thimerosal produced an autism risk (this connection has been discredited) now say that children who undergo a delayed vaccination schedule, or who don't get all the recommended vaccinations, don't have any neurodevelopmental benefit -- in fact, they may do worse.

The study was conducted on children born between 1993 and 1997, and new vaccination schedules contain more vaccines that are formulated with less antigens; so the researchers believe the effect should be about the same now. It also doesn't necessarily suggest that vaccinations improve a child's brain development, as there is a correlation between parents' income and education levels, and keeping a vaccination schedule (at least in this study group -- I imagine in some neighborhoods in Portland, New York, Berkeley, and San Francisco today, the correlation is opposite, that is, parents with more education are more likely to delay vaccinations).

As a mama who generally kept her kids on schedule for their vaccinations, and has definitely suffered much in the way of neurodevelopmental delay, I'm happy to see this -- I generally don't place any of the blame for my children's brain function on the hearth of the CDC's suggested vaccination schedule. I worry more about persistent environmental chemicals, especially those to which the kids were exposed in utero or in their licensed-character jammies, than those dosed via wicked needle several times during my kids' infancy and young childhood.

The licensed-character flame retardant-packed jammies are in a trash bag, the vaccinations are up to date, and I think this news gives me some small comfort with my choices. I think it would be revealing, though, to do the study again in some neighborhoods like the ones in which many of us live, with children born in the past decade, the age of heightened autism fears. I'd bet the neurodevelopmental benefit from sticking to the vaccine schedule would be erased -- but it wouldn't mean much.

Homemade deodorant and triclosan tales: an urbanMamas green thing

April 19, 2010

Who knew such a little post on going sans shampoo would send me down so many do-it-yourself roads? It was easy (and, as they say in Pokemon, super-effective!) to give up washing my face for the oil cleansing method and I just had one personal care product holdout: the deodorant. I've been applying my trusty stick of Dove (sensitive skin fragrance free) daily for over a decade, and after reading something about how chemicals to which a pregnant woman is exposed in her first trimester affecting behavioral problems (boy do I have those around here): well, it was time to cut the cord.

I went to the package today and read the list of chemicals I'd been avoiding. What do I know about the active ingredient, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY? Nothing. And it could be fine, or crushingly destructive. Who knows? The "inactive" ingredients were equally curious, and though sunflower oil sounds fine, I've been trying to avoid conventional almond products because of the crop's excessive use of pesticides and its contribution to colony collapse disorder (many scientists believe stress from trucking bees to pollinate the almond crops, added to the detrimental effects of those herbicides and the lack of a diversity of diet when all the weeds are whacked, is a big factor in CCD), so even one of the other things I recognized, sweet almond oil, didn't have me exactly relaxed.

There was more, too, and while it doesn't appear on my Dove package (phew), it's evidently in lots of other products: triclosan. After the first few giddy years with antibacterial soaps (I was living with a bit of an obsessive when they were introduced, he was thrilled), I became suspicious and, after a few of those usual exposes in which it is shown that antibacterial soap doesn't kill any more bacteria than Ivory, or that people don't stay any weller using antibacterial soap, I went back to the ordinary variety. According to the LA Times, this doesn't necessarily prevent me from having lots of triclosan exposure in my everyday life; a bacterial inhibitor, it's also used as a preservative in soaps that aren't marketed as antibacterial, and in deodorant, face washes, mouthwashes, and toothpaste (Colgate Total is one offending brand). Why this is scary: after having approved the ingredient since 1970, the FDA is once again reconsidering its safety after research in animals shows similar effects to the super-scary chemicals like bisphenol A, dioxins, and pesticides like DDT. That's not all: one of the reasons I tossed it in the first place, the potential for it to hurry along the development of superbugs, is also a concern.

Instead of spreading chemicals of unknown quantity, quality and harm onto our skin (the best way, incidentally, of getting the chemicals into our bloodstream), why not rub on a mixture of things you know and wouldn't actually mind eating, if it came to that?

My deodorant is simple: coconut oil (which is a semi-solid consistency at room temperature), baking soda and arrowroot. I didn't measure exactly, but it's about two parts oil, one part each baking soda and arrowroot (I suggest looking for arrowroot in bulk at People's or New Seasons, it's probably cheaper than buying it in the spice aisle, as I did), stirred around to a good consistency with a little spoon and then spread on with my fingers each morning. Amy Karol has a lovely 'mail order' recipe book (it's #11) with a more involved deodorant, and some other great homemade personal care products, if you want something fancier.

It doesn't work quite so decidedly as the Dove, but it smells delicious and, as long as I apply it every morning, inhibits odor quite nicely. And there's something so liberating about the knowledge that (should I happen to without thinking) I can lick my fingers after applying deodorant. For some reason, that makes me quietly happy every day.

Jamie Oliver, fresh food, and changing our (doomed) destiny

February 23, 2010

I think we've all heard these statistics by now, right? We're raising the first generation of kids who won't outlive their parents -- their life expectancy is 10 years less than ours. Obesity will cost $150 billion this year -- 10% of our health care costs -- and that's projected to be doubled by 2020. Diet-related diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers, are by far and away the biggest killers, far worse than even auto accidents. Why?

Jamie Oliver, in his TED talk that has everyone talking, has pegged a couple of culprits. Fast food is one; sugar is two. And we're starting to realize that it's not just high fructose corn syrup that's bad; it's all kinds of processed sugar. Even that "raw" brown sugar in the sweet brown packets. Sugar in the chocolate milk (it's truly terrible; one carton of the stuff has more sugar than the American Heart Association suggests a child have in a day, and more than soda), sugar in the yogurt, sugar in the breakfast cereal, sugar in the ketchup, sugar in the peanut butter and the jelly and the bread, sugar in the pizza sauce for goodness' sake.

And where is this killer food being served? In our schools, first. Even when fresh local cooked-on-site food is available, there's an alternative that includes yogurt, chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, pizza. In our homes, second. We're killing our kids. (Not just other people. Me. Everett's lunch yesterday: yogurt and "I don't want to talk about it any more.") What's more, in many classrooms Jamie's visited, kids don't even know what fresh food looks like. A radish is maybe celery, maybe an onion; an eggplant is maybe a pear; one kid doesn't recognize a potato in its skin. Jamie doesn't mince words: we are, he says, committing child abuse by feeding kids this junk.

His takeaway is this: "I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

How can we do this? Here's one way: to cook, really cook, from scratch. I don't mean "a can of this and a can of that" from scratch; I mean carrots and potatoes and cabbages and dry beans. Take our kids into the kitchen (even if they're just playing with the water in the sink while you peel and chop); take them to the market; buy vegetables and fruits whole; plant a garden (you can put peas and spinach and lettuce and broccoli raab in now!). Here's one recipe I've been making that's easy, easy, cheap, and delicious -- Everett likes it just plain but I dress it up with plain yogurt, hot sauce, and some braised kale or cabbage:

Continue reading "Jamie Oliver, fresh food, and changing our (doomed) destiny" »

Do you drink soda?

February 22, 2010

Just a week behind, I finally got around to reading an article in the NYT that considers treating soda like tobacco - through taxes, warning labels, and big public awareness campaigns to discourage consumption.  Also recalling a recent (California) study that linked soda consumption to obesity, it made me consider my own soda consumption, both as a child growing up and now as a parent.

Growing up, soda was the drink of choice in the household once my brothers and I were in the elementary years.  My parents drank a lot of soda.  We, the children, we allowed to drink Sprite but weren't allowed to drink Coke.  "It has caffeine; it's bad for you!"  It was my body-image issues that led to counting every calorie when I was a certain age, which is when I stopped drinking soda.  All the empty calories!  In my adulthood, I drank diet soda from time-to-time.  I recall having a Diet Coke every afternoon during my second pregnancy.

Our girls have rarely had soda.  There are some birthday parties where soda may be the only option, and - while I have suggested they try it - they have never liked the stuff.  Last fall, the family gifted me a carbonator for my birthday, to fuel my love for soda water, and - as a special treat - we have also made some cherry-flavored (cherry extract, sugar, water, and some CO2) soda for the kids.  But, even that, they don't so much love.  Sometimes they girls will tell me, coming home from playdates, that their friends offered them soda with their snacks.  All in all, though, we don't seem to be big soda drinkers.  We don't buy the stuff.

Do you drink soda?  How much?  A serving or two a day?  Maybe once in a while when you go out?  Maybe never?  How about the kids?  When did they first have soda?  Do they like it and ask for it?

News for kids with mental health challenges

February 11, 2010

As if to punctuate the news I
was listening to on NPR on the morning of February 10, rapt and horrified, as soon as the piece on the draft of the new 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' released by the American Psychiatric Association today, Monroe rolled over, asked to nurse, and when refused, screamed and punched me in a brief, intense fit of anger. The news, at least in part: mental health medical professionals will be urged to consider an alternative to pediatric bipolar disorder, a label currently on the chart of a whopping 1 million (!!) (!!!!!!!) children in the U.S.: temper dysregulation disorder. I do know that I'm not qualified to make this diagnosis myself, but the child described by the mother in this piece is my seven-year-old; he's also my two-year-old; oh my god OHMYGOD if Everett were to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

I learn after listening to a few more pieces on the subject, if Everett were to have been diagnosed with BPD, he'd still be at Grout; given the oppositional/defiant disorder "diagnosis" handed to us by a parenting coach and shared with the school -- I'd no idea at the time I was possibly creating a Berlin Wall's-worth of barriers for my poor child's future -- he had to be sent to a special school, not mainstreamed with gentle love and school district-provided assistance. So-called "conduct" disorders like oppositional/defiant, once on his chart, allow school districts to remove your child from the mainstream. There may be many drawbacks to temper dysregulation disorder -- I've been reading a wide range of them in the past few days (for instance, it's limited to children between six and 10, perhaps leaving the window open for psychiatrists to consider it a precursor to bipolar disorder and, thus, prescribe the anti-psychotics that are precisely the enormous concern of parents and activists surrounding pediatric bipolar disorder) -- but its availability as a more accurate diagnosis for kids like Everett, being biological and not conduct-based, could open up educational options.

The other big news was that Asperger's Syndrome will be removed from the manual (which isn't published until 2013), with the recommendation that children who meet the current criteria for Asperger's be instead diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This, too, could have far-reaching effects mostly centered around public school accomodations and social service eligibility, with perhaps a minor effect on which treatments would be reimbursed by insurance companies.

I'm working on a larger article about this and will be interviewing a few pediatricians and other experts in the next day or so; I'd love to hear your thoughts and perhaps weave them into my interviews. I'd also be interested to see if any of you with children who fit either diagnosis "basket" were heartened, or terrified by the news? Did you see relief or great worry? I have so many rather weighty questions that I don't think the experts can answer (should Everett have been placed on anti-psychotics? Are the anti-depressants he is taking ultimately harmful? Just how badly did I effect his future by allowing that conduct disorder diagnosis? What about the kids who are on anti-psychotics? I million freakin' bipolar kids? How could that be?)

Cleaning your face with oil: An urbanMamas green thing

February 05, 2010

When I wrote about going shampoo-free a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would inspire such great discussion, action, and several more ways to release myself from the bonds of "product" I've been struggling against since adolescence. Joanna left a comment that once more set me free. "i also haven't "washed" my face in 10 months and no longer have the cystic acne which i was told once by a dermatologist would be with me for the rest of my life unless i took accutane, but i guess that's another blog post."

Indeed, said I, and emailed her for more information. She said she has been using the oil cleansing method (OCM). I Googled around a bit, and found this amazing and detailed post on Simple Mom. I chose to make my mix of about 1/3 olive oil and 2/3 castor oil (purchased at Walgreens, found among other methods of constipation relief) -- good for oily skin -- and tried it a few days later. I've been having trouble with painful blemishes on my shoulders and upper back, so I tried it there, too.

Within a few hours, my skin felt better than it has for a long time. It was already looking smoother and more even, too, and the next day I realized some of the acne on my back was healed entirely. It was such a simple, elegant use of natural ingredients; and the process is restful and relaxing too. I doubt I'll ever buy product for my face again and you can bet I won't be spending my luxury money (at that time in the future when I have some, that is) on spa facials again. After all, I have them right here at home.

Continue reading "Cleaning your face with oil: An urbanMamas green thing" »

Had it with BPA? Tell Salem to ban it already.

January 31, 2010

DSCN0229 I don't know about you, but I've been angry about bisphenol-A (BPA) for years (literally). It's in our bodies, in food and beverage containers (among other things, like retail receipts), and it ain't good for us.  Especially babies (and pregnant women).  The U.S. FDA *finally* acknowledged some concern about this toxic chemical a few weeks back, but plans to study it for a few more years before doing anything more than studying it - some more.  Well I for one don't have time to wait.

Which is why I'm so thrilled about Oregon Senate Bill 1032, which would phase the toxic chemical out of all reusable food and beverage containers (think: baby bottles and sippy cups) and formula cans and baby food jars (single use) intended for children under 3.  'Bout time.

You can help pass this bill - it's easy!

If we don't tell our state legislators that we're tired of BPA and support this bill, how will they know how important it is to us?  Simple: they won't.  So here's what you can do:

  1. Email your state representative and senator NOW (just need your zip code).
  2. Better yet, call 'em.  All you have to say is, "Hi my name is ________ and I urge the representative/senator to vote YES on SB 1032 to ban BPA.  Thank you."  It's that simple. And that quick.  Get the phone numbers here.
  3. Join us this Thursday in Salem to show our legislators how much we want this.  Activistas will be there from 1 to 3 PM to "pack the hearing room."  Thanks to the Oregon Environmental Council (OEC) for bringing this bill so far and spearheading this grassroots effort.
  4. Join OEC's Healthy Kids Network to stay current on action opportunities  - and their excellent eco-healthy home tips.

Industry lobbyists want this bill to fail.  Do you?

New Runners Group – First Run

January 22, 2010

The new runners group has started! Our first group run is Saturday, January 23rd @ 8:00 AM at Salmon Street Springs. That is the large water fountain/feature at the end of SW Salmon and in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. If you did not receive the email, but wanted to or want to be added, email me (again maybe) at umamrunners@gmail.com and I will add you to the list.

The face of no shampoo: an urbanMamas green thing

January 15, 2010

Shetha_noshampoo  Me_no_shampoo

Two of us now have immersed ourselves head-first into a practice that's more liberation than environmental imperative (though it's that, too): we've left the shampoo behind. A practice that's known by the stinky moniker "no 'poo" -- or "what everybody did until the 1970s" -- living without shampoo can be as simple as just rinsing your hair with hot water when you shower. Even at its most complex, the shampoo-free routine consists of a few rinses each week with a solution of apple cider vinegar (about a tablespoon) and water (about a cup) and the occasional baking soda solution (a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water).

The important thing about giving up shampoo is recognizing that our miraculous bodies were not manufactured for the profitability of beauty-products companies. In fact: human hair restores its natural balance and loses that greasy, unwashed feeling after as little as a week or two. Shetha's hair, here, is without shampoo for only a few weeks; I haven't used anything but the occasional cursory rub of Dr. Bronner's bar soap for months, and removed the shampoo from my grocery list a year ago (at first, I used a vinegar solution once a week or so). A piece on NPR last spring noted that washing hair every day removes the sebum oil our sebaceous glands produce to keep our hair healthy (and, straight out of that Pantene commercial, shiny!). Our sebaceous glands react and produce more oil, more often. Take away the detergents? And you get sebaceous glands that behave the way God intended, prettier hair and a more healthy scalp.

No one used shampoo, or washed their hair at all, until the late 1800s. For the next century, women used shampoos once or twice a month. In the 1970s, shampoo companies went on a campaign to "educate" us on the need to shampoo daily. Thanks guys! This hasn't been good for anybody; not only have we become dependent on harsh chemicals that strip our hair of the natural healthy sebum, but we've greatly harmed our watersheds and wildlife by washing that stuff right out of our hair... and down the drain. Here's the effect of phosphorus; surfactants are terrifically harmful for fish. Even the "green" ones can be problematic.

These two heads of hair are proof: going without shampoo isn't a hardship. Have any of you gone shampoo-free? How is it going? Do you have questions? Tips? Let us know!

H1N1 Vaccine Update from Multnomah County

October 27, 2009

Multnomah County wanted to be sure to relay the most recent information possible regarding the H1N1 vaccine clinics, so they emailed:

Oregon vaccine planners as recently as late September were anticipating initial shipments to be small and then ramp up through the end of October, reaching a point where the vaccine would be widely available to the public through multiple channels.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control announced that unexpectedly low yields from vaccine manufacturers were delaying the roll-out of larger vaccine batches. Vaccine shipments have been at a steady trickle since Oct. 5, with roughly 6,000 to 12,000 doses arriving in Multnomah County each week.

Facing lower initial shipments of H1N1 flu vaccine, the Multnomah County Health Department will focus vaccine that becomes available on two groups at higher risk for flu complications: pregnant women and children under 5.

The county only expects to receive 6,000 doses this week (October 26). There are an estimated 14,000 pregnant women in Multnomah County and an estimated 48,800 children under age 5.

Pregnant women have been hospitalized at five times the rate of the general population; the rate for children under 5 has been 45 percent higher than the general population. The data reflect admissions since September 1 in Multnomah County and are in line with national figures.

Health officials are now making decisions weekly about vaccinations, considering local data and where a limited supply of vaccine can do the most good.  With vaccine continuing to be in short supply, the Multnomah County Health Department has decided to reduce the number of public vaccination sites until vaccine becomes more readily available.

Future vaccination sites will be posted on the county's website, www.mchealth.org. The State of Oregon Flu Hot Line is also a resource to help people determine where they can get a flu shot: 1-800-978-3040

The Health Department also is in charge of distributing vaccines to private medical practices that have asked to be vaccine providers. The department, rather than distribute the vaccine across the board, is placing an emphasis on filling orders placed by obstetricians and pediatricians.

Our Health Department is coordinating with other Health Departments in the region as well as the state to ensure that information is made available to the public as quickly and accurately as possible.  Please visit our website, the state of Oregon's Flu website, and the Center for Disease Control's flu website  for valuable information and resources.

Do your kids take vitamins?

September 17, 2009

We adults may have vitamins or supplements we take, but I could use some suggestions on vitamins or supplements for the kids set.  A quick status update on my Facebook about my almost 6-yo down with a scratchy throat and sniffles solicited a few quick suggestions, including Hyland's "Sniffles and Sneezes", "C-Plus Cold Tablets" and kids Emergen-C.  When you feel that the kids' immunity levels are low, do you supplement with something other than lots of fluids and fruits/veggies high in Vitamin C?

Swine Flu Vaccine: Will you?

August 27, 2009

With the school year around the corner, I am struck thinking about the passing of germs and viruses running rampant, as it does every year as flu season approaches.  This year, however, beyond the typical question of the flu shot "yay or nay?", I am starting to think of the H1N1/swine flu shot.  Have you discussed this with your health care practitioner?  Decided whether or not to get the swine flu vaccine?  An urbanMama sends the timely email:

I'm wondering what other families are going to do about the swine flu vaccine that's being offered this year. I've never had a flu shot, and am not too keen on the idea. But I have a new baby and a three and a half year old who is starting preschool next month. I hate the idea of all of us being sick with a highly contagious, nasty illness. I'd love to hear what other mamas are doing.

For more info on H1N1, check out the CDC's site on swine flu.  And, to find a flu clinic near you, check the American Lung Association site or Oregon's SafeNet site.

My kid needs glasses!

August 24, 2009

I started wearing glasses at a very young age, as did my husband.  We are preparing ourselves for children, who inherit our genes and who will need glasses at some point.  Some mamas are already there.  Emails an urbanMama:

My four year old needs glasses.  The optician shop associated with his pediatric opthalmologist doesn't have a very wide selection of kids frames, and I'd really like something that looks cute on him, rather than just serviceable.  Does anyone have any recommendations for eyeglass stores that stock a good collection of kids' frames?   (Friendly and knowledgeable staff would be a plus!)

Green tampon alternatives

August 06, 2009

It's one of those nights when I'm glad no one's going to audit my browser history. Having recently started my cycle again after my last childbirth (a scary-long 22 months), I had been toying with the idea of trying the DivaCup. This month, I finally ran out of the large stock of tampons I'd amassed from before I became pregnant, but I was nervous to take the $34.99 plunge for a DivaCup, so I picked up a package of "Instead" softcups -- I'd never even heard of them before, but evidently they've been around since the mid-90s.

As I had in my head the concept of reducing waste, after the initial test-run I tried rinsing and re-using the Instead.  And so, I've been searching the 'net finding out if re-using temporary brands of softcup menstrual fluid holders is safe. (The manufacturer says "no," but the internet says "yes," as long as you just rinse with water and dispose of the cup when your cycle is complete.)

We've talked about softcups before, and it appears now there is an even greater variety of options out there. Lots of women seem to find them uncomfortable -- and I admit, the Instead wasn't the most natural thing I've ever felt down there (though a long run while wearing one went fine; cut to the stock shot for every tampon commercial, ooh, I should have been playing tennis and wearing white!). And 12 hours capacity? Not for this mama. More like 2-4 hours during my heavy flow. But, going with the one-per-cycle concept, it's the cheapest.

I've got another 28 days now to decide whether to stick with the Instead until my package runs out, buy a cup (which one?) or go Glad Rags (has anyone sewed their own cotton pads? seems simple enough). After much contemplation, cotton pads seems the gentlest on a body, while the DivaCup or similar seems the greenest (no cotton pads to wash). Are any of you considering making a greener change? What have you tried?

Recess Bootcamp, week 2: Knowing is Half the Battle

July 25, 2009

A sponsor offered a free spot in a mama boot camp class in exchange for periodic posts on the process. Christine is now in her second week; this is her second update. Find the first here.

I'm full steam ahead on this Recess Health Immersion Bootcamp and can I just say I'm loving it. It's true I may be an easy sell, because if we're being honest, this is the first thing I've done for myself since my daughter was born. I even loved getting my BMI measured. Three weeks into the program and my body information has been entered, calculated, given a sprinkle of Internet-magic and voila: I'm armed with information, and lots of it. I know how many calories I burn on any given day, my lean body mass percentage, BMI, percentage of body fat, blood pressure, current weight, and other scientific data that my brain is forgetting at the moment. Based on my test results, I have been given a personalized workout regiment to follow 7 days a week. I've also been given an outline of some healthy food choices. I'm telling you people, if being informed is any part of this battle, I'm well on my way.

Our workouts thus far have been yoga, pilates, weight training with resistance bands, and my personal favorite, Hoopnotica (which is basically hoop-dancing).

Continue reading "Recess Bootcamp, week 2: Knowing is Half the Battle" »

Sign me Up! My Journey back to Healthy began on Twitter

July 23, 2009

A sponsor offered a free spot in a mama boot camp class in exchange for periodic posts on the process. Christine is now in her second week; she has been sending in updates on her progress and you'll see the first two over the next two days.

Fitness has been a regular part of my life for the last 10 years.  I discovered it when I was in a rather dark place back in my early 20's, trying to navigate my way though a divorce. I was depressed, lonely and scared. I had moved to Portland to be with my boyfriend (now ex-husband) and while I had a small handful of friends, I was lacking what I needed most -- the close support of family.  I ended up finding solace in exercise and before long I was hooked. I had a five-year love affair with Billy Blanks, of Tae-Bo. I wore those VHS tapes to the bone. Around that same time, my company relocated buildings and our new building (the Fox Tower) had a fitness center that was free to tenants. On the days that I wasn't Tae-Bo'ing, I had the convenience of working out at my lunch hour which was so, so wonderful and easy. For many years I was happy with my fitness level and relatively comfortable with my body.

Fast-forward to today. I'm now a SAHM, with a 16-month-old daughter.

Continue reading "Sign me Up! My Journey back to Healthy began on Twitter" »

Michael Pollan on feeding children

July 08, 2009

I've long subscribed to a variant of the theories out of Take the Fight Out of Food, an excellent book I recommend to those who are suffering from food issues. While I don't always execute my theories quite as they're devised in the ideal parenting lab that is my brain (ahh, if only I could be the perfect mama I have designed there!), they've been working pretty well for me. Essentially, the concept is to present a variety of healthful food options, and occasional treats, constantly expose your children to new foods, but never make a big deal out of what they actually eat. Don't set up "good" and "bad" foods; use words more along the lines of "foods that make your taste buds happy" and describe the physical benefits of other foods; protein gives you strength and makes your brain work better, etc. (And along the lines of our sweets conversation, Donna Fish, the author, has a great post on how to handle dessert battles here.)

So I was thrilled to read this interview with Michael Pollan, one of my writerly food heroes, about his now-16-year-old son and his past food issues. He was a "white food eater" when he was young; he'd eat chicken, potatoes, bread, rice, and nothing else. Upon reflection, Pollan believed this was due to his need to reduce sensory input (he doesn't say it, but I wonder if the boy was diagnosed with a sensory integration disorder). In fact, it was his son's "tortured" relationship with food that got him interested in writing about it.

About two years ago, Pollan's son began to suddenly expand his food repertoire, and after working in a kitchen for a summer began cooking seriously, and is now a "food snob" who makes a port wine reduction to go with the grass-fed steak his dad cooks for dinner. (I can only dream.)

It's a relief to a mama like me.

Continue reading "Michael Pollan on feeding children" »

birth control without the hormones

May 18, 2009

I learned recently that my husband, an Army Reservist, was going to be mobilized in July. Just as if my reproductive system was storing up ammunition for the long time he'll be in Iraq, a few days later I felt the familiar mittelschmirz; after 22 months of ovulation hiatus since my son Monroe was born, I'm back. (Yay?)

Tonight I was chatting with another mama about how my body seems to want to get me pregnant before he leaves (hello, ovaries, I'm fine waiting! really!). I don't do hormones and haven't found any injected, oral or surgical (temporary) birth control that works for me. She also couldn't tolerate hormones and reminded me about the Fertility Awareness Method -- basically, learning to read your body's signs and, if necessary, charting your ovulation cycles. Once you've got a handle on it, you can avoid intercourse completely during the fertile window.

Smart thinking. It's probably hysterical, but as I've had two close friends accidentally become pregnant while on birth control with extremely high advertised success rates, I have no faith in anything but carefully timed abstinence. I wonder, are there other mamas out there who practice birth control without hormones or other commercial intervention? Any tips, tricks, or cautionary tales?

Swine flu, oh, what to do?

May 03, 2009

Swinebirdhumaneek! flu has hit Oregon, and after listening to reports on NPR of school closings in Texas and letting my far-too-fertile imagination run wild following the automated PPS phone call last week noting that no schools were being closed... yet, I'm wondering: will they close the schools? If so, how will we cope? We are not a city whose citizens are likely to react amicably to being advised to stay indoors, also, most of us have to go to work, which brings up that nasty issue of parental paid leave.

Has this crossed your mind? Do you think health agencies are over-reacting to the now-so-called "pandemic"? Or are you already keeping your kids away from confined spaces, Joe Biden style? Or are you like me, mama of a child whose cough has gone on for a couple of weeks (but no fever, I swear!), sure that passers-by are recoiling in horror and fear that his cough is swine flu.

In one of the NPR stories, after a student at a high school had a confirmed case of swine flu, the rest of the town began to avoid high schoolers like... well, you know. The plague. Two kids going to the gym with their dad were turned away. The idea that my kids, too, could potentially be given a wide berth in public and turned away at businesses gives me shivers.